You are here
BOOKER T. JONES became interested in music as a toddler, when he received his first dime-store drum. At age five, he taught himself chords on a ukulele and an old piano, and at age nine, his parents bought him a clarinet. Jones' mother and father were both musically inclined (his mother was a lead soprano in their church choir, and his father sang).
As a fourth grader, Jones found his way into Memphis' Porter Jr. High School Band by playing the oboe. Spending evenings after school in the school bandroom, Booker eventually learned to play the saxophone and flute, later moving to the brass instruments, trombone and baritone horn, at Booker T. Washington High School.
Jones' intriguing marriage of R&B and pop sounds has its roots in the clubs and studios of Memphis in the late '50s and '60s. The son of a high school math teacher and a school secretary, Jones was sneaking into Memphis clubs to play music by the time he was 14. He began working sessions at Stax Records in 1960 at age 16, introduced to the Stax team by high school pal David Porter. With guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Lewie Steinberg, and the late Al Jackson Jr. on drums, he formed the MGs (an acronym for "Memphis Group," or for the sports car, depending on who's telling the story).
Booker T. & the MGs (with Duck Dunn replacing Steinberg on bass) were the studio house band of Memphis' Stax label during the 1960s, playing on records (and backing on stage) acts like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Eddie Floyd. They also found success as one of America's most readily identifiable instrumental groups. In 1962, when he was a senior in high school, the group cut "Green Onions," which sold a million copies and was followed by six other Top 40 hits, including "Hip Hug-Her," "Groovin," "Soul-Limbo," "Hang 'Em High," and "Time Is Tight."
As a staff musician at Stax Records, Booker played on some of the most important records in the history of rhythm and blues music, including "Born Under A Bad Sign" (written with William Bell), "Hold On I'm Coming," "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," "Try A Little Tenderness," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," and others. Booker played trombone on "Skinny Legs and All" by Joe Tex, and baritone sax on "Cause I Love You" by Rufus and Carla Thomas.
From 1962 through 1966, in addition to working in the Stax rhythm section, Booker was attending Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Driving the 400 miles to Memphis on weekends, and flying from Indianapolis' airport for gigs, Booker finally earned the Bachelor of Music Education degree, completing his senior recital on trombone.
In California, Booker played on albums by Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan ("Billy The Kid"), Stephen Stills ("Love The One You're With"), and Barbra Streisand ("Evergreen"). It was during this period that Jones recorded five solo LPs for A&M, Epic, and MCA. In the eighties, Booker played on albums by Boz Scaggs, Soul Asylum, John Lee Hooker, and Kris Kristofferson.
In 1992, Booker T. & the MGs were honored to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, also serving as the house band for its legendary opening ceremonies concert in Cleveland, Ohio in 1995. Later the band received a Grammy for its single, "Cruisin'," and was presented with the Rhythm and Blues Association's Pioneer Award.
Since 1993, Jones has been presented with three Bammie Awards for outstanding keyboardist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has scored films including Jules Dassin's Uptight, John Cassavetes' Opening Night, and Castle Rock Entertainment's Little Big League. Jones has contributed music to films such as Barfly, Get Shorty, White Men Can't Jump, and American Grafitti.
At present, Booker is living in northern California with his wife Nan and three children, playing occasional dates with Booker T. & the MGs and with groups around the Bay Area. He is currently writing songs for a new solo album and is set to compose music for the upcoming Empress of the Blues, a movie on the life of Bessie Smith.